Prices off the books

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April 11, 2011

10:40 PM

It’s a well-known fact that textbooks are expensive. Students are faced with this very real problem every semester when professors post their mandatory book lists. But why are they so expensive? Fortunately, there are several potential solutions that could alleviate this stress.

On average, students pay about $900 for textbooks per year. According to a report released by the National Association of College Stores two years ago, the average annual amount spent by students on books was $702. It is outrageous that in two years, the average total price of textbooks increased by $200. Prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation and are now more than three times the price they were a decade ago. The majority of the blame falls on the four textbook companies controlling 80 percent of the textbook market. This oligopoly increases prices and deprives other companies of the viable possibility of making any money in the textbook market. As long as this system remains in place, prices will continue to rise.

While the textbook companies are certainly to blame, the campus bookstore perpetuates the problem because holds the sole right to sell any new books. While on-campus organizations do their part to lessen the blow of high books prices by hosting used sales on campus, they do not solve the problem of increasingly expensive new textbooks. The fault also lies with professors who fail to turn in textbook lists for the next semester’s classes. If the bookstore does not receive a booklist by a specific date, it will only buy back used books for a fraction of the price it would have if it had been aware the class was going to use the same book the next semester. This deprives students of a reasonable return on the textbooks. All of these things work together to empty students’ pockets.

We believe it is possible to change this damaging process with the help of students and professors alike. Students can find alternative ways of purchasing textbooks, such as using online stores like Amazon.com or Half.com. Another cheap solution is to buy and sell textbooks from fellow students. While these resources are useful for second-hand textbooks, they do not solve the problem when the newest editions must be purchased new and at full price.

Professors can help by releasing PDF versions of articles and chapters that students can access via Blackboard and by no longer requiring the newest editions of textbooks. While a new edition may have a few new articles or so, they are rarely worth the inflated price of a brand new textbook. Professors should also investigate textbooks which are available for rental and should do their best to assign these rather than those that can only be purchased outright. Finally, professors can stop requiring textbooks that are outrageously expensive and request cheaper textbooks. It is the willingness of students and professors to buy these textbooks which emboldens textbook companies to continue charging these outrageous prices. If professors turn in textbook lists early, it will allow students to get back some of the money they spent. Professors should be conscientious of the needs of students and the enormous amount of money they must spend every year to attend the College of William and Mary when they assign textbooks.

We believe the practices of both the textbook companies and the bookstore are unfair, and we urge students and professors to find alternative ways to buy textbooks, in order to help students at the College save money. We already spend too much on tuition; we shouldn’t have to spend so much on textbooks on top of that.

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